If your looking for the best saffron substitute for a soup, pasta, or rice recipe, check out this list of simple saffron alternatives! Some of these herbs and spices can help you match the signature yellow color of saffron, some may come close to its unique flavor, and some substitutes can do both! Take a look and see what saffron substitute will work best for you!
Substitutes For Saffron
Saffron is a spice that does not get a lot (or enough) attention in home kitchens. Often thought of as a “fancy” spice many people do not cook with saffron at home. It is more often found in restaurants.
Just because saffron isn’t commonly used in home cooking doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for it, though! This delightful and unique spice adds both flavor and color to soups, pasta, and rice.
- Substitutes For Saffron
- What is Saffron?
- Why Would You Need a Substitute for Saffron?
- The Best Substitutes for Saffron
- 1. Turmeric + Paprika
- 2. Turmeric
- 3. Paprika
- 4. Curry Powder
- 5. Cardamon
- 6. Cumin
- 7. Safflower
- 8. Marigold Spice
- 9. Marigold Petals
- 10. Calendula
- 11. Annatto
- 12. Food coloring
- 📋 Recipe
The reason you find saffron in these three kinds of dishes is due to the heat and moisture used to make soup, pasta, and rice. The heat and moisture are essential to activating the flavor and color of saffron.
What is Saffron?
Saffron is most identifiable by its color. When cooked, saffron produces an orange-yellow color that lends a gorgeous golden hue to whatever it is cooked with. Think saffron rice pilaf or risotto.
While saffron adds a golden hue to its dishes the spice itself is red. These bright red threads come from a flower called “saffron crocus.” The part used for cooking is the middle part of the flower known as the stigma.
The stigma is separated from the flower and then dried. The dried stigma is what is known as saffron. A unique quality of saffron is that it must be harvested by hand. Therefore, it is quite expensive to produce.
Why Would You Need a Substitute for Saffron?
The cost of saffron is one of the main reasons home cooks look for substitutes. As a spice that is not used frequently, it can be quite an investment to buy saffron for one meal.
If at some point you want to try the real thing make sure that you do invest in quality. Look for saffron that is imported from the Middle East or Asia. Store it in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months.
While imported saffron may be in your future, let’s find you the perfect substitute for right now.
The Best Substitutes for Saffron
The distinct color of saffron is one thing to consider when looking for the best substitute. The second thing is taste.
Saffron has a unique flavor and aroma. While the taste is subtle, you know that it is saffron. A spice with such a unique flavor is difficult to replace. However, while you won’t find an exact flavor match for saffron there are several close substitutes.
1. Turmeric + Paprika
One of the best substitutes for color and flavor is a combination of two common spices. Turmeric and paprika.
Turmeric has a similar golden color. While its soft earthy flavor will not overpower the dish, it may not be enough flavor. Therefore, it is best to add paprika to pick up the flavor. Combined with the earthiness of turmeric the final taste will reflect notes of saffron.
Mix ¼ teaspoon turmeric + ¼ teaspoon paprika to replace a ¼ teaspoon (or less) of saffron. This can be used in any recipe.
If you don’t have paprika then turmeric can be used on its own. The subtle flavor of turmeric on its own will not be as prominent as saffron.
However, it will lend a mild earthy flavor note to your dish. Moreover, you will have the rich yellow color of saffron.
Use turmeric in a 1:1 substitution for saffron.
Between turmeric and paprika, it is more common for home chefs to have paprika on hand. Therefore, if you only have paprika you can use it on its own.
Unlike turmeric, paprika will give you more flavor and less color. Paprika on its own will lend a bit of a smoky flavor with a mild hint of heat. Even though it is not bright yellow, the natural red coloring will lend some color to your dish.
Begin with paprika in a 1:1 substitution for saffron. If it’s not quite strong enough, add more to taste.
4. Curry Powder
Curry powder is a mixture of several spices that lends a complex and earthy flavor to different dishes. One of the key ingredients in this spice blend is turmeric. Therefore, it has the same rich golden color.
While curry powder has its own unique flavor it can be used to replace saffron in many recipes. The blend of spices pairs well with soups, sauces, and rice dishes.
Due to its strong and different flavor profile, start with about half of what the recipe calls for in saffron. It will create a new flavor profile, so taste it. Then, add more if needed or desired.
Cardamon is a seed that is popularly used ground up to add flavor to savory and sweet dishes. It has a soft earthy flavor and even a mild yellow color.
While it is not an identical flavor to saffron, it has similar qualities that will resemble saffron in many dishes.
Use cardamon in a simple 1:1 exchange for saffron in dishes that are not reliant on the bold yellow color.
Cumin is a popular spice used in recipes worldwide. You will find this distinct and earthy spice in many of your favorite Mexica, Italian, and Middle Eastern dishes.
While cumin shares earthy flavor notes with saffron, it is much more bitter. Therefore, it is best to cut the bitterness with a little bit of sugar. It is also more pungent than saffron so it’s best to use less.
Use ⅔ teaspoon of cumin (plus a pinch of sugar) to replace 1 teaspoon of saffron.
Safflower is a type of herb that belongs to the same plant family as daisies. It is mostly used in its oil form (safflower oil). However, safflowers can also be used in their dried herb form.
Dried safflower is made from the petals of the flower. This lends a similar yellow color to your dishes. While its flavor is different than saffron it has a similar mild flavor profile.
Safflower herb can be used in a 1:1 ratio in place of saffron in any recipe.
8. Marigold Spice
Another flower that is used as a spice is the marigold. Marigolds are bright yellow flowers that are in the same family as sunflowers.
While marigold spice is not commonly sold in mainstream grocery stores you can find it in some specialty food stores. You can also order it online.
You can use marigold spice in a 1:1 exchange for saffron. It is best used as a substitute in soups and rice dishes.
9. Marigold Petals
While already made marigold spice may not be commonly sold, marigold flowers are! Marigolds are quite easy to find at the local nursery.
If you have fresh flowering marigolds, then you can make your own dried marigold spice! Simply remove the petals and dry them out. This is best done by leaving them on a plate to dry in the sun.
Once dried, grind up the petals into a powder. Use the fresh marigold spice in place of saffron in a 1:1 substitution.
Calendulas are another flower that can be dried and used in cooking. Often referred to as “Pot Marigolds” these flowers have petals that are longer like daisies and less bushy than other marigolds.
The yellow color and subtly spicy flavor notes are the perfect substitutes for the color and taste of saffron. Like marigolds, simply dry the petals and then grind.
Dried calendula can be used to replace saffron in any dish in a 1:1 ratio.
Annatto has coloring that is closer to paprika than saffron. However, it has a lovely earthy and musky flavor that can be a beautiful replacement for saffron.
This spice is a seed that comes from the achiote tree that is native to South and Central America. Annatto is usually sold as whole seeds. Therefore, you will need to grind it before using it.
Ground annatto can be used in a 1:1 replacement for saffron. If the flavor or color is not strong enough, add more as desired.
12. Food coloring
If you have a dish that is reliant on the yellow color of saffron, then food coloring can help achieve the color. However, food coloring is flavorless. Therefore, food coloring alone will not replace saffron completely.
Consider using food coloring in addition to one of the spices above. If using food coloring on its own or combined with cumin or cardamon, add two drops of yellow and 1 of red food coloring to your dish.
When adding food coloring to paprika or annatto you can use just two drops of yellow.
Choose any saffron substitute from this list that will best meet your needs, whether it be color, flavor, or both! Tell us how your substitute worked out by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page!
Saffron Substitute: Turmeric, Paprika + More Great Alternatives!
Best Saffron Substitute
- Combine ¼ teaspoon turmeric with ¼ teaspoon of paprika to substitute for ½ teaspoon of saffron (saffron powder, or approximately 20-30 saffron threads).¼ teaspoon turmeric, ¼ teaspoon paprika
- Start with less, taste, and adjust seasoning as your recipe comes together.
Using Turmeric or Paprika Only
- Both turmeric and paprika can be used as a standalone substitute for saffron in a 1:1 ration.
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!